A campaign to promote a 1/2-cent safety sales tax in the City of Jackson kicked off Jan. 29 at the Ground-A-Bout coffee shop in Jackson.
About 40 people attended, including officials from city government, the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, Jackson R-2 Schools, and the police and fire departments.
“We are extremely excited to support this,” began Brian Gerau, director of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce and treasurer of the Keep Jackson Safe Citizen Committee. “This really works well with the mission of the Jackson Chamber.”
On the April 3 ballot, there will be a request to raise sales tax in the City of Jackson by 1/2 cent. That 1/2 cent can be spent only on public safety. “For the first time, a new law allows a city of our size to use it for capital projects, staffing and operations,” said Gerau.
The City of Jackson currently collects two percent sales tax, which is the lowest sales tax of any comparable city in Southeast Missouri, Gerau said. (State and county sales taxes push the total sales tax to six percent.) If voters pass the tax increase, the City will collect 2.5 percent sales tax, which will still be the lowest of any comparable Southeast Missouri city.
“Public safety is important to Jackson. We have a very safe community. We want to make sure we can keep it that way,” Gerau said.
If passed on April 3, the safety tax would allow the police department to add four or five patrolmen. “The City has grown 75 percent in the past 30 years, but we have not added patrolmen,” Gerau said. Jackson currently has the fewest officers per 1,000 population in Southeast Missouri. “Our goal is to have three patrolmen patrolling at all times. Now, we often have only two,” he said.
The sales tax will also pay for a full-time trainer for the fire department.
The public safety sales tax will also make it possible to build a new police station next to the current building which is shared by both the police and fire departments. Built in 1981, the current building is outdated and “cramped on both sides,” said Gerau.
Municipal court may move from the City Council chambers in City Hall to the new police station.
After the police move into the new building, their side of the old building will be renovated and the fire department will use the whole building.
The sales tax will not be used to build the new structure (city fund reserves will pay for that), but the tax will be used to operate it.
The sales tax will make it possible to have another school resource officer (a police officer in the schools). “We have three now. We’re ready to go to four,” Gerau said.
Police Chief James Humphreys thanked everyone for coming. “We are all here for one reason — we care about our community,” he said. “This is so important and so imperative. It’s crucial for five, 10, 15 years down the road. Jackson is growing.”
Jackson currently has 1.6 officers per 1,000 population. The national average is two per 1,000. “It takes four to five officers to get to that,” Humphreys said. On two out of three shifts, Jackson has just two officers on the street. He would like to see that number double to “a minimum of four out there on the street every night.”
Fire Chief Jason Mouser said Jackson has two fire stations and 20 firefighters. Half of the firefighters have been employed for five years or less; a third for two years or less. A full-time training officer is needed to make sure firefighters get an equal amount of training. “It makes the difference on whether someone lives or dies,” he said. Firefighters are called out on 900 EMS (emergency medical) calls a year. They also have to know how to properly conduct vehicle extrications and handle trench collapses.
Equipment continually needs to be replaced. Trucks need to be replaced every seven years. The cost of equipment keeps going up. Air packs for firefighters now cost $7,000 each.
Although he would like to hire female firefighters, it’s not possible at this time because of the dorm-style bunk rooms in the current fire station.
Jackson R-2 Superintendent Dr. John Link said there had already been 11 school shootings across the nation in 2018. Quick police response is important. “I’ve got to know when I push that button that they’ll be there,” he said.
Mayor Dwain Hahs reminded the group that the City can spend funds to educate people about the election but can’t tell them to vote yes.
“Our biggest challenge is to get people out to vote,” he said. There will not be any other major issues on the ballot — no school board election and the four city aldermen will run unopposed — so it’s expected that only 2,000 to 2,200 voters will turn out. “If we can get 1,200 [to vote yes], it’ll pass,” he said.
He estimated that the 1/2-cent public safety sales tax will generate $800,000 to $1 million a year. If the measure passes April 3, the revenue will start becoming available in July. The hiring of new personnel could start that soon. They probably would not be all hired at once. Work on the new police station could begin late this year or early in 2019.
Gerau concluded the meeting by asking for donations. The committee had raised about $2,500 toward a goal of $7,000 to educate the public on this issue.
More information is available at www.KeepJacksonMoSafe.org or the Facebook page, KeepJacksonMoSafe.